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Back office success

November 25, 2020

In this episode of the Green Industry Perspectives Podcast, Ty Deemer welcomes Kristine Crawford to the show. Kristine is a swiss army knife for North West Tree Huggers. She does it all from handling daily operations to marketing to evaluating software. Kristine shares how tree care and landscape company owners can set their administrative staff up for success. She even takes a deep dive on her checklist for evaluating business management software

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On this episode, you’ll learn:

  • How NW Tree Huggers found their niche market in the Pacific Northwest.
  • The importance of specialization.
  • Kristine’s back office best practices.
  • The methodology behind Krisitne’s business management software chechlist.

Links to love:

Full Transcript:

Ty Deemer:

You are listening to The Green Industry Perspectives podcast, presented by SingleOps, a podcast created for green industry professionals looking for best practices, tactics and tips on running their tree care or landscape business. All right, everyone. Welcome back to Green Industry Perspectives. Today we have the awesome chance to talk to Kristine Crawford from Northwest Tree Huggers. Kristine, welcome to the show. 

Kristine Crawford:

Thanks for having me, Ty. 

Ty Deemer:

Yeah, absolutely. Kristine, every episode, we like to start off with the exact same question to provide some immediate value for the audience and that question can really relate to the work y’all are doing at Northwest Tree Huggers. And it’s really just over the last year, two to three years, what have been the top two to three things that you can say has really attributed to y’all’s success as a business? 

Kristine Crawford:

Yeah, I love this question and it really kind of makes me think about all the many things that we have done over the last several years. We’re in a really competitive market up here in the Pacific Northwest. And so, I think probably the number one thing that’s been important to us is finding our niche in this market, finding where it is that we are different than our competitors and really zeroing in on that area of our business. Part of that is listening to our client feedback so I guess that would be my second top thing is receiving feedback from our clients and really following through on it, not just giving them the yes and uh-huhs and thanks for your feedback but really changing our business model and altering what we do to help fit what they’re looking for. Probably the third top thing that we’ve done is really learning to kind of recognize our market and who our target clientele are. So, really looking at who it is that we’re after and zeroing in on not just getting all the business but getting the business that we’re looking for and the business that we want and the business that will help send us in the direction that we’re moving. And so, for us, that means really looking at things to help us relate to that clientele even more than we would just to a general audience and looking for ways that we can really get more specific about what we’re doing and more intentional. 

Ty Deemer:

Awesome. Yeah, I’m really excited to kind of dive into those three points later on in the show. But before we get to that, I think it’s always helpful for the guests to provide their background and experience, both from a personal level career-wise but also the company overall. So, if you could, I know your path in the green industry, in the tree care industry is pretty unique. But could you just kind of share your background, where you started, where you are now? And then we can kind of dive into Northwest Tree Huggers a little later. 

Kristine Crawford:

Yeah, absolutely. So, for myself, I would say I have a very unique background in the green industry. My professional background is actually the pharmacist. I’ve been a pharmacist for about 12 years. And so, I come from an industry that’s completely unrelated to the green industry. But I found that there’s actually quite a bit that we have in common and I’ve been able to kind of use some of my outside perspective to help our business think outside of the box a little bit and behave a little bit differently than a lot of the services in our area. So, we started Tree Huggers back in 2016. We’re about a four-year-old business. We started I think as most guys do with just a guy in a truck and a business license and picking up side jobs and that grew pretty quickly for us. In about four years, we’ve tripled our size. We now have five employees and we have a full service. So, we’re running a full crew often five, six days a week and offering a really large variety of services. We’ve gone from picking up every job we could get and desperate for work to really kind of honing in on the things that we like to do. So, we spend a lot more time now with tree preservation. We’ve started moving into other spaces like disease management. We do a lot of specialized work in our area. We’ve been recognized by the EnviroStars organization which is the company in Washington state that certifies green businesses. So, we were Washington state’s first official green certified tree service and part of that is just recognizing that that’s what our clients are looking for and choosing work that that helps us get there. So, we do a lot of things like creating habitat trees and things that are more focused on preservation now than just the larger removals that we were chasing early on. 

Ty Deemer:

Awesome. Yeah, and just so people have a frame of reference, what is your day-to-day role? Do you have a title? Or I know you kind of wear many hats. What does that look like? 

Kristine Crawford:

Yeah. I mean I always wonder what I should tell people when they ask about my title because I do so many different things within this business. I think like a lot of small tree services, you start out having a spouse who’s involved in the business and it starts with making sure paperwork is done, responding to emails, replying to phone calls and that type of thing and it kind of evolves into finding what it is that needs to be done. So, I do everything from filing our quarterly and monthly taxes to managing payroll for our employees. And really over the last four years, that’s shifted into kind of a more business development role. So, as we’ve grown, I’ve started to outsource some of that work to our CPA and to others who can help us with that so that we can start to focus or I can start to focus on really where it is that we want to go with this business and what tools do we need to get us there and where should we be focusing, how should we be marketing and what are we doing to help us grow in the areas that we want to grow in. 

Ty Deemer:

Awesome. Yeah. I’m really looking forward to kind of diving into your role at Northwest Tree Huggers and everything that y’all are doing later on in the show. But I do want to circle back to kind of the top three common threads that you mentioned at the top of the show. Yeah. I find it really interesting in y’all’s three to four year journey that you went from, like many companies, getting on your feet and really accepting any work that’s possible and then deciding like no, we really need to hone in on what we can cater specifically to our client base to and really finding that target clientele. I’d really like you to kind of explain to the audience what your team was thinking through when deciding that target audience and what led you to get to the point where you finally found what it was. 

Kristine Crawford:

Yeah. So, as I mentioned earlier, I mean really when we first started out, I think like a lot of small businesses, you’re really kind of grabbing for everything you can get your hands on. Every call is a critical call, every job is a job you want and you make a lot of compromises about who you are as an individual and what your ideas are for your business so that you can just keep operating and have that revenue and support your team and support your operations. And as we started to grow, we started to recognize that there were certain clients that for us were not just more profitable but also more enjoyable to work with. And we really kind of found that in this particular area especially, there was kind of an unmet need in our community. There are a lot of tree services here, Pacific Northwest. I mean we’re the evergreen state. We have a lot of trees, big trees and there are a lot of companies here that will come in, they’ll do removals, they’ll do the pruning, they’ll do all the basics. But there weren’t a lot of companies that were really focused on what our clientele is looking for which is preservation and focus on keeping trees and maintaining trees and having their trees be healthy. And we started to notice that as we were talking to our clients and asking questions like well, what do you want for your trees, what do you see for your trees, what is it that you envision for your property, the answer wasn’t always I want my trees gone. And we had made that assumption early on that if someone calls for a tree removal, they want their tree removed. But sometimes it’s not about that. Sometimes it’s about finding out what their actual goals are. Maybe it’s not that they want the tree removed. It’s that they’re having a lot of litter and they need help managing that because they just don’t have the time to be cleaning up after their trees. And so, for us, it was really listening to the problem and helping them come to a solution for that problem that wasn’t necessarily what they’re originally looking for. And we started asking questions, asking more questions of our clients and listening to what they had to say to us and we had noticed over time that the majority of our clients and the ones that were calling us back to do their work weren’t calling us back because we gave them what they asked for. They were calling us back because we listened to them and made suggestions that maybe they hadn’t considered. And so, for us, it was really identifying who was calling us back and why were they calling us back and what were we providing to them that others were not providing to them when they were out bidding on these projects. 

Ty Deemer:

Wow, that’s awesome. With most of that client feedback that you were receiving, did you do that just in real time? Like when you were going out and doing an estimate, asking the client questions? Or was a lot of this through like follow-ups? Or how are y’all receiving that type of dialogue with those clients? 

Kristine Crawford:

Most of the initial feedback, so asking them the questions and really trying to understand them was done in the field and I think that’s part of what’s made us successful is that when we’re sending out our arborist to do proposals, he’s the one who’ll be doing the work and he’s the one who will be listening to what the client wants. And I think part of the reason that he frequently gets calls back is his honesty. I mean his ability to be straightforward with our clients and be comfortable disagreeing or comfortable suggesting something that might have been outside the box for them. And when we’re in sales we tend to be very agreeable and I think that’s not always what the client is looking for is someone to be agreeable. Sometimes it’s someone who can be a straight shooter and tell them what they’re seeing as a professional and what their professional recommendations would be. And so, all of that feedback was happening in real time in the field when he was meeting with the client, looking at their trees and able to point out things to them that maybe they hadn’t considered. All of the feedback that we’ve received from our clients regarding the reason that they’ve chosen us has been after the fact. We frequently have people say things like I spoke with several people about this job and the reason that I called you is because you were really honest and told me what I needed to hear, not what I thought I wanted to hear. And we get that a lot and I think kind of keeping that focus on what is the right thing to do here and what can we do to help the client meet their goals has helped us to be very successful. 

Ty Deemer:

Yeah, that’s really awesome. As far as your sales arborist going out and doing all that, that’s invaluable to the business. Pretty awesome to have that. I do have to ask, you mentioned that when you first got started that it really, like a lot of tree care businesses out there, it’s a lot of focus on how many removal jobs you can get. Did your company name change from that point to this to Tree Huggers? Like it seems like a natural transition for a company that wants to focus on preserving trees. Is that part of the branding or is that just like coincidence? 

Kristine Crawford:

It’s funny because I think it might have been subconscious. I think about this a lot. We actually, when we first started did start out with that mentality of got to get those big removals, got to get those big money jobs and I think it kind of just evolved. And I think maybe we had initially named the business but subconsciously thinking about tree care and not really thinking about being that big crane service taking out all those big hazardous trees. And we do that. We do remove trees. We do still offer those services. But I think it was kind of twofold, us subconsciously knowing that maybe that’s the direction that we wanted it to go eventually. And then also, just in in terms of our branding and marketing, when people see our name and it aligns with, even maybe not even intentionally, with what they’re looking for or what their goals are, they recognize that we might be a good choice. 

Ty Deemer:

Yeah, 100%. That’s what I was thinking of because it really, talk about finding your niche market. Your brand, your company name really speaks to, it sounds like what one of y’all’s core values of the business is. But your ideal customer’s in line with that. So, that’s got to be pretty good for your market. Yeah. So, we can go ahead and kind of dive into the next kind of topic and it really goes to what your role is at Northwest Tree Huggers. We’ve kind of addressed so far that you wear many different hats and that your role has kind of evolved over the years. I really just kind of think it would be helpful to start with you talking through kind of what a day in the life for you looks like and all the different things you cover. And then we can kind of dive into more of how are you managing it all, how are you figuring it out and what lessons have you learned along the way. 

Kristine Crawford:

Sure. Yeah. So, for myself personally, I wear a lot of hats within our company. I am employed full-time outside of our business which makes it very challenging to keep up on the day-to-day operational things and I think that’s a problem that a lot of small tree services face. A lot of times they have relatives, spouses or even themselves managing all of these things when you have a lot of competing priorities and there are a lot of time constraints. And so, for us, the biggest thing that has contributed to our success in this area and my personal success in this area has been my ability to prioritize and really looking at where I’m needed, when I’m needed there and how I can help support the business. And then choosing the things that I have to do versus the things that we can ask others to support us on. So, outsourcing things like phone calls, outsourcing things like our tax return filings and things that really could be done by somebody else and focusing on the things that need to be done by myself such as addressing customer service issues, working with our teams to look at strategy. I do a lot of our marketing on my own as well and I make that kind of part of my daily activities. So, I don’t have necessarily time set aside for that but a lot of the marketing that we do for our business is kind of more guerilla marketing where we’re in Facebook groups, we’re in chat boards and we’re getting involved with people in our community and we’re available to them for questions and really kind of part of the community versus just a business putting advertising out there. And so, that’s something that’s pretty easy to kind of work into my daily activities on a regular basis. 

Ty Deemer:

Okay. Awesome. Yeah. I really like what you touched on on prioritizing your day and understanding that there are a lot of tasks that you can go to other people for whether it’s with your accounting and hiring a CPA or hiring someone to answer the phones. And it seems like you have become an expert in finding good partnerships to go and do. I think it would be helpful for you to share with like another office admin person that’s currently trying to do all that stuff on their own, how should they be thinking about offloading some of that to another resource from a contractor? How did you go through trying to figure out who your CPA should be or how you should offload who answers the phone in the office? 

Kristine Crawford:

Yeah. I mean for us it was really looking at what are our pain points. So, as we’re going through our day, what are the things that are just never seeming to get done because I think as a small business owner, we all have those things that just no matter how much work you do, there are things that you just don’t get to. And what are those things and looking at those things and maybe those are the things that we’re offloading because those are the things that we’re not prioritizing already. We tend to get to the things that we enjoy to do first. I think we’ve all experienced that. If you prefer to answer emails versus returning phone calls, those are always the things that you’re going to do first. And so, looking at the things that you would choose to do second and finding someone who can help support you in that so that you’re not having to do them second or not just skipping them altogether. 

Ty Deemer:

Yeah. That’s great. You mentioned too that you’ve become what we would kind of consider just like a customer advocate. You’re the one reaching out to customers, doing whether it’s with follow-ups or any issues they’re having. What does that look like for you is it mainly over the phone doing follow-ups or are you just responding to a lot of emails each day? 

Kristine Crawford:

Well, I think one thing that really sets us aside and that has actually really helped us to grow is the fact that our business from a very, very early point in in growth really adopted technology. I mean we really dove in head first with technology and I think that that really fits with the clientele that we serve. Up here in the Pacific Northwest, we have really large corporations up here. We’ve got Microsoft, we’ve got Facebook, we’ve got all kinds of really tech savvy individuals and that really did well for us, our service well because we have individuals who prefer to communicate electronically. They prefer to work with companies who adopt technology, who are accessible to them in a lot of different ways. And so, it actually has worked very well for us to communicate with our clients through email primarily. And we really set the stage for expectations with our clients. Most of our clients contact us online either through Facebook or through our website. We have a lot of really great technology integrations that make it easy to do that. We have self-scheduling tools, we have email contact tools and the majority of our clients do set their initial appointment with us that way. 

So, when that first contact is electronically, it’s not a surprise to them when we communicate electronically in other ways as well. We also provide electronic bidding. All of our proposals are sent out electronically and we make them aware of that at the time of the visit. We send out all of our invoices electronically, we accept electronic payments, all of our permitting is electronic. And so, really our clients have gotten used to this idea that that’s how we’re going to communicate with them and it really has helped facilitate not just the streamlining of our own process and our ability to manage that process and to level our workload and do a little bit of sharing of responsibilities there but it also has helped us to accomplish that first top theme that we were talking about where we’re really finding our niche and part of that niche is our clients who accept the technological era and who are willing to work with us in that way. 

Ty Deemer:

Yeah, that’s really cool. I think that’s probably my favorite part of our conversation so far. It just seems like in every facet of y’all’s business currently, you’re just really reaching your customers where they’re at. Like the fact that you’re in the Pacific Northwest, kind of just like a tech centric place, you’re reaching them and every interaction they have with your business, it’s consistent. You said you kind of set the expectation early even when this is how they first interact with your brand and that can go a long way with having customers for a long time. 

Kristine Crawford:

Yeah, I totally agree with that. And I think we’re in a space where you still have a lot of services where they pull up with the triplicate pad and write out their estimate on the spot or we’ve had clients tell us that other people bidding on their projects didn’t even give them anything in writing, just threw out a number and hopped back in their truck. And I think the fact that we’re willing to take the time to provide detail to them about the proposal and send it to them in a format that they’re familiar with really reaches them. 

Ty Deemer:

Oh, absolutely. I do kind of want to transition our conversation to something you had kind of shared with me before our conversation and it’s the fact that with your experience in the pharmaceutical world and you’ve mentioned that you have experience with like lean management in that field. And I just want you to be able to touch on like where has that really impacted how you think about Tree Huggers and how have you benefited from that? 

Kristine Crawford:

Lean management is an increasing trend that we’re seeing in a lot of businesses. We’re seeing it a lot in the tech sector, we’re seeing it a lot in healthcare. But we don’t really talk about it a lot in the green industry and it hasn’t been something that I’ve spoken about a lot in tree services at all. And so, for me, I think I’ve spent so much time thinking about it on the healthcare side that it’s just natural for me to think about how we can apply it to our to our business at Tree Huggers as well, things like looking for waste, trying to identify waste and minimize waste, things like level loading our work and identifying the correct operator for each role that we’re portraying, making sure that we are being as efficient as possible and kind of trimming the fat so to speak on things that really we could be automating or streamlining or outsourcing and looking at ways that we can apply a lot of those linked concepts to what we’re doing every day. I think about this when I think about our communications with customers. For example, how can we avoid the back and forth emails? Is there something that we can do to make it so that the communications we’re trying to get across can be done quickly and efficiently and without a lot of return calls or return messages? And we’ve done that pretty effectively I would say. 

We found a lot of really great tools that are helpful for scheduling, for example. I know this is one thing that we really struggled with as a new business was scheduling. You have a customer give you a call, leave you a message and say, hey, I need to get on your schedule for an estimate. And then that leads to return calls and well, what day works for you and what about this time and how about this time and really we were spending a lot of time and wasted time making those appointments. And so, one of the things that we have done to kind of streamline that is create a link for our customers to self-schedule that provides them with all of the available times that they may be able to schedule with us and allows them to choose something that works for them without all that back and forth. And it’s efficient for them, it’s efficient for us and even more exciting about that, we’ve been able to split those appointments by area. So, one of our challenges as a company is that we live in a very large metropolitan area where we have really heavy traffic and even after COVID, I mean it can take us two hours to get from one end of the Puget Sound to the other. And so, we’re really trying to avoid the back and forth of put one appointment at 9am in the north and one appointment at 10am in the south and then you have to go back north again. And using technology to help kind of guide our scheduling there has really streamlined our efficiency and eliminated a lot of waste for us in time and gas and missed appointments. 

Ty Deemer:

Yeah, that’s awesome. I’ve actually been on your website and I was playing around with it. And I noticed that you basically have it broken down into two service zones. And just so the audience has a frame of reference, they basically are able to pick which zone they are based off of it looks like what city or region they are in. You might be able to provide a little bit more detail but that’s something someone could implement like next week and save their crews time. 

Kristine Crawford:

Yeah. No, and that’s exactly right. So, our clients will go in there, they’ll choose their zone and then they’ll be presented with some dates and times that are available based on their zone. It makes it effective for them because they know which appointments are immediately available for them and it really helps us minimize the amount of time that we’re spending on the road. 

Ty Deemer:

Great. Yeah. So, we’re going to dive into technology in a minute but to kind of round out your role, what you’re talking to throughout all this, all the many hats you wear, there’s I imagine quite a few people like you listening to this right now or owners thinking about the person like you and their business. If you had to give any advice to an owner that’s trying to help someone like you or just someone like you listening to really start just really learning how to manage all the workload that someone like you has, what would be kind of two to three things that you say like hey, implement this, it’ll really help you out? 

Kristine Crawford:

I think a lot of people get into the green industry because they’re really great at what they do. They love what they’re doing, they love the work, they love being out there and I think a lot of them don’t get into the industry because they’re good at business or they enjoy managing office tasks or they love filing taxes. And so, I think one of the best pieces of advice that I can give to a green business owner is to really look for somebody who is excited about that and find somebody who feels the enthusiasm for your office operations that you feel for your field operations and really trust them to take the wheel and trust them to look for solutions for your business and really listen to what they’re experiencing every day in their operations. I think that’s the greatest advice that I can give. I mean our arborist Joel and my husband is the owner of our business, he’s the face of our business and he’s the one that all of our clients know and love. But I think it’s important that all of the Joel’s out there have someone in the in the background who can really help support what they’re trying to do so that they can focus on what it is that they love and what they’re interested in and what their goals are for the business versus focusing on trying to juggle all of those everyday tasks. 

For the Kristine’s out there, the office managers and those who are kind of juggling all the office work, I think really my best piece of advice is to make sure that you understand what the priorities of the business are. So, looking at what really needs to be done, what should be the focus of your work and what do you need to help you get it done, what would help you accomplish that work and what would help you focus in and tune into the things that are going to operationally affect what your clients see. I think as an office person, it’s really easy to get focused on task work as well. But looking at how what you’re doing affects the client and the client experience is important. For us, it’s not just about making sure that we have no unread emails in our inbox. It’s really about the response that we’re providing to our customers, what they’re seeing on their side and how easy it is to work with us. And so, I think making sure that we are focusing on providing a positive experience for the client is really important as well, not just getting the work done on our side but what does it look like for the client. 

Ty Deemer:

Yeah, that’s all awesome stuff. Thank you for sharing that. I think that’ll be really helpful. To finish out the show, I really wanted to spend kind of the last third of it talking about the checklist you provided for our field guide to business management software. A lot of people right now, their busy season is probably slowing down now that we’re in late November/early December and they might be thinking about a software solution for their business. And part of what your role at Northwest Tree Huggers was realizing hey, we need a system to run our business in and you were responsible for evaluating the myriad of options companies have. And you kind of went through for us and shared what are some of the things y’all thought of. For those that are listening, if you want to see Kristine’s full checklist, you can see it at SingleOps.com/FieldGuide. But basically what you shared in it was you said when you were searching for CRM platforms, you just created a comparison spreadsheet to review all the available options and made sure you pick the one that align most with your priorities. So, what I would really love to spend kind of the last bit of the show on is going through some of those things that you included in your checklist and share with green industry owners or other office admin workers in the industry why you believe those priorities are important for their business as well. 

Kristine Crawford:

Sure. I think we recognized pretty early on that we were going to need some type of CRM software and I think we realized it for the same reason that a lot of business owners realize it. We were just really overwhelmed, not able to keep up on all of our tasks, not able to keep all the emails straight, couldn’t remember if people had said they wanted to move forward with the work, if they’d been scheduled or not and it was really just getting to be too much to juggle for us. And so, at that point is when we really said we need a solution because our customer service is suffering, we are suffering, our personal time is suffering. And so, we really sat down and looked at what are our priorities and what are the things that are important to our business. And there were some things that really stood out for us in terms of what would really help get us to where we were trying to go. The first thing that was important to us was getting our schedule organized. It was really challenging to keep track of the enormous mounting volume of emails that we were receiving and as much as we loved embracing that technology and communicating by email, it did get really difficult especially as we work as many of you do mobile. And so, sorting through mobile email lists is really not the most effective way to keep on top of things. 

And so, we were looking for a platform that would allow us to capture the proposal acceptance from our clients. So, let us know that the client wanted to move forward and a way for us to go back and review whether those clients who wanted to move forward were ready to schedule and whether they’d been scheduled. That was a huge priority for us, just making sure that we weren’t losing business. We’d had a few situations prior to implementing our CRM where our clients had told us they wanted to move forward. Somehow that communication got missed and we ended up losing that job. And so, for us, communication can cost you money if you’re not doing well there. So, being able to keep track of those proposals and whether they had been accepted and whether they needed to be scheduled was a really big one for us. 

We also looked at really just the client experience as a whole. We had used a few contractors ourselves who had CRM systems in place and found that it was really nice to be able to get email reminders of their visit and to get emailed invoices and to work with them on a platform that really was streamlined and effective. And so, looking at the user experience from the client side was very important to us as well, not just how easy it is for our staff to use but how easy it is for the client to use and understand. And so, we looked at a lot of free trials and tested out some platforms to see if any of those really stood out to us. And one of the things that stood out to us about the platform that we chose ultimately was the fact that we could customize it. We could make it so that our invoices and our proposals and the communications our clients received were consistent with our branding and consistent with our website and it really just felt coherent to us and that was one of the things that really kind of helped us make our decision. 

Along with that, I mean and the concept of trying to save ourselves time and make ourselves more efficient, it was really important to us that we had something that could integrate with the other systems that we use. And so, like a lot of small businesses, we have an accounting software and it was critical to us that if we’re invoicing clients through a platform that it be able to integrate with our accounting software to minimize the amount of matching and reconciling that we had to do on the back end because what we weren’t trying to do is create more work for ourselves by implementing technology. And I think a lot of people understand how that goes. You look for something that’s going to improve your life with technology and ends up creating additional work that you weren’t anticipating and that’s really what we are trying to avoid is creating more work for ourselves. What we wanted was less work for ourselves so we could really focus on things that couldn’t be automated. And so, automating as much as possible for us. Those are the primary things that we looked at. We also really wanted something that was going to be user friendly, so something that everyone on our staff could use and understand and use effectively was a big thing. 

The other piece of it looking at our priorities was our bidding. We were finding that because we have one arborist that was doing the majority of our proposals, the work doesn’t stop when you get home. You go out to your bid, you talk to the clients. Well, then you come home and you have to make sure you actually get them the proposals that they’re looking for. And we were finding that without a CRM platform, we were spending a lot of time putting together proposals and figuring out our pricing and estimating and communicating that to the client. And so, one of the things that we looked at is the ability to I guess kind of—and this goes along with that lean principle—set ourselves up to have a lot of that already pre-filled or have it already preset options. Really what we were looking for was something that would give us either drop down options or pre-filled text and descriptions and pricing, job costing, that type of thing to help us be able to more quickly send out those estimates. And I can tell you that since we’ve implemented our CRM, I would say it takes us about a tenth of the time to complete our proposal each evening as it did prior because we’re just picking our items. We know which items we’re looking for. If we’re bidding on a stump for stump grinding, we’ve got a stump under six inches in there, we’ve got a stump six to twelve inches and all we have to do is go in and pick the item that we’re looking for, pop it into the estimate, put the number of stumps we’ve got and send it off. I mean the efficiency that we’ve gained by using a CRM extends beyond just the client communication and the invoicing and really to just our daily functionality and improving the amount of time that we’re spending doing our basic work. 

Ty Deemer:

Yeah, that’s great. I love that. If people were already looking at softwares or trying to think through that process, now they have a ton of things they can include in their wish list of features. But also, if they weren’t even thinking about it, you just provided a ton of examples of why they should be looking. That statement about like it taking a tenth of the time that it did before is incredible because there’s like a well-known stat in the industry that 80% of the time, bids go to the first proposal. People expect like an Amazon Prime like delivery experience these days and if you can get a proposal in their hands on their phone that quickly, that’s really awesome. You mentioned when you were talking through when y’all were deciding which CRM platform you were doing, you went to do, like in your search process, there were some free trials you entertained. I know a lot of other companies do like online demos where someone will walk you through the platform. What would you view that’s important during both of those processes, what did you learn, like what are the benefits of a free trial versus having an actual demo? Did you learn more from one than the other? I’m really just curious what your experience there was like. 

Kristine Crawford:

Yeah. We tried both and I will say that it’s very appealing to think of the idea of a free trial to jump into a 14-free day trial and you can kind of look at how it looks for you and you can create a login and you can look at all the features and you can click through things. But what I found is that for something like this where it really requires a degree of integration into your own system and downloading your client list and working with your accounting software, we really weren’t able to get a good idea of what that software would look like in real time for us. And I’ve found that for a lot of these really more complex technology solutions, free trials aren’t always the best way to go because you can’t get a real picture of operationally what it will feel like for you and your team. I’ve also had experience with software solutions in the past where you view these wonderful demos that have all this functionality and the demonstrator takes you through the workflow and everything looks wonderful and looks so easy. And then you get in there and you integrate and in reality, it’s not that way for you because maybe you’re missing some functionality or you don’t have the full membership or it doesn’t end up being all the things that it appears to be in the demo where everything’s in a perfect manufactured environment. 

Ty Deemer:

Yeah. 

Kristine Crawford:

And so, where I found the most value was with full demonstrations and we had a few companies that provided us with full like kind of like a Webex demonstration where they walked us through all the features of the software, were able to show us a test environment where they could generate a proposal or generate an invoice and schedule a pretend client and show us what that would look like from the user side and the client side. And for me, that was the most valuable because even though it didn’t allow me to kind of get in there and play around which I really like to do, I’m a hands-on person, it allowed me to see what it would actually look like in practice and that gave us a really good idea of what we would expect for our clients and for our staff as we were working through that integration. It also instilled a lot of confidence in us that the team that we were working with was going to be there for us when we were doing our integration because a lot of the software solutions that we looked at during the sales process never really involved a person. It was just download the software and click these buttons and here’s a guide to how you get started. Well, for us, it wasn’t enough. I mean it didn’t instill confidence in us that if we had issues or concerns or problems, that particular vendor would be there to help work through them with us. 

And one of the reasons that we chose the CRM that we did choose is the is the client support and the very hands-on support that we received from the point where we had our consultation and our demonstration to all the way through I mean even today where we are able to make suggestions or recommendations or ask questions or get help with things that maybe we’re wondering about or struggling with. And for us as a company that really doesn’t have a lot of time to spend troubleshooting and following FAQ documents, I mean it really has been helpful to have a team on the other side that can help support all the questions that we have. 

Ty Deemer:

Yeah, absolutely, especially for companies that are going through their software search, maybe acknowledging that they—I know this really isn’t the case for you—but maybe they’re acknowledging that they’re not the most tech savvy company and they’re kind of taking a leap by doing this, knowing that on the other side, the customer support’s there. You’re going to have someone that’s one-on-one with you walking through the platform, how to build it out. Tthat can be really important no matter where you are in your kind of tech journey but especially if you’re on kind of the less efficient end, the process of going through an FAQ doc can be pretty painstaking. Kind of lastly, I would love for you to kind of touch on, I’m looking at your checklist right now and you mentioned that you need a software that has alignment with our business model and you’ve touched on that a lot throughout this whole episode of knowing your niche market, knowing who you’re going after, knowing the types of jobs you want. And I think a lot of software is saying like this is how our software runs, you have to kind of change your business around it. Why was it so valuable for you all to have a software that could be configurable to your business? 

Kristine Crawford:

What we were looking at all the options that were available to us at the time. I think they were six or seven that we evaluated. I found the majority of the software out there really was focused around one particular type of business and really the majority of them at that time were focused on repeat service. So, lawn care, spraying and just repeat visits, right? A lot of them even were focused on more like house call type of work like plumbing, roofing, that type of construction work. And there really weren’t a lot of options that were an exact fit for tree services and I think what makes tree services unique is the fact that while we may not be visiting our clients on a consistent monthly basis, we do have repeat customers. So, we do need to maintain client records and we do need to maintain that relationship with them. But we also have really unique visits in that we may have multiple visits for one project. We may have subcontractors. And trying to find a software that really kind of fit the bill for us there was challenging. 

We found some software that had some features that we were looking for, some software that had other features that we were looking for but we were really looking for something that could do all of it for us. So, we’re looking for something that could meet all of our needs and that means being able to cater our software experience to our business. And one of the things that was most helpful for us is looking at the direction that we were headed. So, we looked at the software that was available to us and what would be a good fit for us now but we also wanted to make sure that we weren’t investing in a software that was going to not meet our needs later on as our business started to expand. And so, when we initially started, we were looking for something that could do all the basic things. It could send out a proposal, it could hold a schedule for us, it could invoice our clients. But really we had this greater vision for our business where we knew at one point, we were going to want to do things, for example, like tree healthcare management. We had a plan to get our pesticide application license which we have recently done and we wanted the ability to schedule those repeat visits if we wanted to do that as well as things like chemical tracking, tree inventory, those types of features that are really important to our business. And so, finding something that had functionality that maybe we wouldn’t use now but we would want to have in the future was really critical to us and there were really very few options that had all of those capabilities built in already. And we were pretty fortunate to find something that kind of fit the bill for us. 

Ty Deemer:

Awesome. Yeah. That’s all really helpful stuff. For people that are listening, I know Kristine has kind of broken down a lot about evaluating software. If you want to see her full guide, again you can go on SingleOps.com/FieldGuide. You’ll be able to kind of see the checklist that she has provided there. I always like to end every episode with kind of this final question that really just summarizes kind of what’s going next or what comes next for Northwest Tree Huggers and what are you most excited about going forward? 

Kristine Crawford:

I think for us, there’s a lot of space for us to grow. I mean as I mentioned before, Pacific Northwest is a really large market. There’s a lot of pie here. We always talk about getting our piece of the pie. The pie here is huge and I think looking at what type of pie we’re after. So, looking at where we want to expand our business and the way we want to grow. And I think our area of opportunity is finding more tasks that are within that tree preservation space that haven’t really been explored. We don’t have a lot of tree services offering things like growth regulation or fruit trees service, maintenance contracts and things where we have an opportunity to get ongoing consistent repeat business. And so, looking at that part of our business in ways that we can grow, not just with our occasional clients and neighbor referrals and those type of things but with consistent, ongoing, continuous, contracted business would be an area that we’re really excited to move into. 

Ty Deemer:

Awesome. Well, Kristine, I can’t thank you enough for the time. I really enjoyed hearing about y’all’s business, how you’re balancing all the different things you have going on and I know that our audience will get a ton of value out of your software checklist. That was all great insight and we really appreciate your time today. 

Kristine Crawford:

Thanks for having me, Ty.

Conclusion:

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